A collective sigh passes through Truckee when all the tourists leave town after a holiday weekend. Our roads had just been inundated, our grocery stores crowded and picked over, our normal small town vibes overrun by the hustle and bustle of city folk. On Monday mornings we all head back to work and things finally feel normal again as we settle into our vacationer-free daily routines.
“Back to normal” is a funny concept in this town, however. Because as nice as it is to live in Truckee without having to dodge tourists left and right, it’s normal and absolutely essential to this community that they come here and shake things up every winter.
Before this year, the last good snow season in Tahoe was 2011. In the 4 years since then, local businesses have been strapped for cash and ski resorts turned brown and muddy from the drought. Images of empty chair lifts and manmade snow blowers haunted our minds and we feared for the tourism dependent economy that fuels this region.
As much as I love to hate them, I can’t imagine the Tahoe region without tourists. Because that would mean it would cease to be a world famous winter wonderland, and my mind just flat out refuses to conceptualize the Sierra Nevada without snow.
My boss recently told me that for every degree global temperatures rise, the snow level in the Sierra rises 500 feet. This means at our current rate of climate disruption, good winters in the Sierra will continue to be few and far between, tourists’ visits will dwindle, and the local community members who make their livelihoods in the Sierra will either pack up and move elsewhere or be forced to turn to new streams of revenue.
I chat with people from out of town all the time—on chair lifts, in grocery stores, when friends and relatives pass through the area. Probably the most common question I am asked is, “What do people do for work around here?” While there is a surprisingly complex network of nonprofits in Tahoe, a growing influx of the tech industry in nearby Reno, hospitals, law offices, and creative professionals left and right; the majority of the people in this town work within the tourism industry in one way or another.
I am scared for a Tahoe without tourists because it would be a consequence of climate change that I would very much rather never came about.